You Came, Too

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston


I. Beginning

We approach our message this morning as we continue on this journey within our series that connects our scripture to poems from famous poets of the past and present.  On our journey, we have found that we can find God in many different places and spaces of life, that God can use anything that we encounter to experience and further understand our God, including the words, metaphors, similes, imagery, and stanzas of poetry.  We just have to open up our eyes to see God’s movement. Our poem this morning is our sermon title, “You came, Too,” which was written by Nikki Giovanni, which I have to admit is one of my favorite poets.  Both our scripture and our poem lift up a genuine sense of community and love that should be present within the Body of Christ, the church – not just the walls of a building but the institution of the people called by God, not bound by the walls of an edifice, but those bonded together that no matter where they gather are bonded in the name of Jesus Christ, bonded in Christ that we might, in connection with Christ, create and proclaim God’s love, peace, and justice.

 II. Background

Our scripture comes from 1 Thessalonians, a letter written from Paul that is likely the very first piece of Christian literature that has been collected. It was written to the church of Thessalonica, located in the capital of the Roman province of Mesopotamia, a gathering of faithful followers of Jesus established as an institution of a church by Paul and Silas when they came to the area to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. This gathering was a group of people that often met in small groups within each other’s homes.  As Paul and Silas initially came to Thessalonica they came to the Jewish synagogue to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the process they converted some Jews, but also a lot of Gentiles to Christianity.  But this was not a welcomed action within this area because it caused some to leave the Jewish tradition and caused even more to turn from their idol worship to a dedicated life to the one true, living God, shaped in love, peace, and justice.  This caused quite a few people to be outraged at Paul, as his ministry  was trying to change the societal structure, the homeostasis of life, so they ran him out of town.

So Paul was writing this letter from an isolated place far away, as he was likely avoiding an area that had run him out of town to avoid persecution and violence, yet this letter is filled with a pastoral, affectionate, and warm tone as he wants to encourage them in this moment, even though he cannot be with them in person.  So now he has sent word through his companion, Timothy, to check on their well-being and the state of their faith.

There is quite a lot that we as the people of God can learn from Paul and the church of Thessalonica because Paul both commends the church for their actions as the church but also shows them ways they can be more faithful as the Body of Christ.  In the midst of racial injustice within our world that has caused people to take action, people are looking for a loving source that would affirm their human dignity.  In the midst of a decision of a grand jury that denied even a court case that might bring justice to Breonna Taylor who senselessly lost her life, there are people that are looking for a place that restores a sense of peace and justice, a place that would love them as a child of God embracing all their differences.  So in the midst of people searching for a space that exudes God’s love, it is no secret that the church could benefit from seeing the ways we could be Beloved Community, in ways that love flows out of us, if no other reason than to improve what we already do.

 III. Beloved Community

Grace to you and peace. May God’s peace rest upon you. As Paul acknowledges to this people of God that they are chosen by God to live as God’s chosen people, he begins to show them what it means to be the People of God, the Body of Christ, the Church within the world.  He tells them that he gives thanks to God for each and everyone of them, that he keeps them in his prayers.  As the people of God, the church, we must thank God for one another daily, and pray for one another.  This not only shows that we care, but it helps to pattern our life in a way that is shaped by the love that is found in community that creates love and peace between one another as we seek to love God, continuing to build relationship with God daily, and love our neighbor.  Our goal as the people of God is to build Beloved Community, a term made popular by Martin Luther King, Jr., which some might call the Kingdom of God here on earth.  But Beloved Community is shaped when all can live in community in God’s love, peace, and justice uninhibited by inequality and oppression. So as Paul is sharing his thanksgiving and prayers, he not just saying this to say this, or even to acknowledge that this is just something he does, but he says it to let them know that this is part of what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ, that just like it has become a part of his life, they to should incorporate into their lives.  Beloved Community begins when we are so concerned with one another, that we function in love and thank God for everyone because they are created by God, and pray for their well-being in this world.  When we love people enough to want their well-being, love will not be just a feeling but a way of life, that exists within the essence of everything that we do as the church, the people of God.

But the Body of Christ is not supposed to just do this for those we know, for those we are most comfortable with, for those that are in our specific social network.  No, this extent of love should be extended to all.  All those who may come to the church, not just in physical location, because the church is not bound by walls, but those that may engage in any aspect of church ministry and life, should be able to feel the love of Jesus Christ within us.  That is through our Monday Methodist, our website, our online service, our in person service, the mission work we do, the angel tree project we take part in, all the work that we do – people should feel the love of Jesus Christ.   The question this morning is what do they see when they see us? Do they see Christ? Do they see love, peace, and justice within us?

IV. You Came, Too

Quite frankly, the world is simply filled with so much chaos, that people are in search of any attempt for solace.  COVID-19 has hit our shores and world with a vengeance as it has taken the lives of over 210,000 people within the United States alone, and even more globally, it has left some of us sick, some of our loved ones sick, it has kept us from being able to commune with one another, we have been isolated from friends and family. I am sure you all are tired of it being mentioned, and we are all emotional and psychologically fatigued by the situation we are in, but we have to acknowledge this pandemic is a legitimate part of our reality for the entire year of 2020.  It has changed the way we see the world and it has dramatically changed the way we live life.  And in the midst of this, people are trying to find love, people are trying to find comfort for their sorrow, rest from their anxiety, and peace in the midst of a strain of the human spirit.  And the church has had to find new ways to be effective in the midst of all of this.  Politics has put people at each other’s throats because the political climate has polarized our opinions and the way we feel about one another.  And in the midst of this people are looking for a space that values them for them and is different than the rest of the world, a space that values love and values them, surrounding them in love. We live in a world where there is racial tension as Black people are just trying to be affirmed with human dignity, and yet there seems to be the threat of the rise of white supremacist organizations making society a fearful place for people of color.  And in the midst of this, people are looking for a place that exudes the being of Christ that will tear down these structures of hate and affirm all human beings as created by God, showering them in love.  In the midst of the chaos, people are looking for what the church should be, the people of God, who have embodied Christ and work to bring Beloved community, where we can live together in love as we work for equality and justice to be the standard.  But what do they see when they come to us? Do they See Jesus Christ? Do they see God’s Love, peace, and justice?

I came to the crowd seeking friends

I came to the crowd seeking love

I came to the crowd for understanding

I found you

And when they find us what do they find?

Paul says to the church of Thessalonica, that the word about the faith of the Thessalonians was known all over because they had imitated not just Paul, but they lived their lives in ways that imitate our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the midst of persecution that they experienced, because they decided to follow this Lord, that we call Jesus Christ, over the emperor or any other god from the Greco-Roman era, they held strong to the teachings of Jesus and embodied them as they tried to be faithful people of God.  They held to their faith and allowed it to reflect the love in Christ that healed the sick, fed the hungry, set the captive free, gave sight to the blind, gave precedence to the poor, and showed love through the self-sacrifice of a loving savior that hung on a cross for the redemption of sin and granted new life through resurrection.  And not only did they live out the teachings of Jesus as they imitated Jesus, but they lived together as the community of Jesus – they were defined as the people who imitated Jesus and the news of that, had gone out into the world.  People knew that they would find love in the midst of this community, they knew they would find peace, they knew that they could find the Love of Jesus Christ, they knew they could find the true living God in the midst of this particular community.  For their sorrow they could find joy, for their desperation they could find solace, for their heartache they could find comfort and it was all because this community of God reflected the love that is within Jesus Christ – living as Beloved Community – in unity with one another.

Years later the world is still looking for solace and we are hopeful that the word has gone out into the world that they might know that they can find Christ in us the church – that the word has gone out in all the world and that it is known throughout this region that you surely can find God here – within the church, but more specifically in Cheltenham United Methodist Church.  And as the world is looking for where they might find Christ, we are hopeful that can they look to us uplifting the words from our poem that show that they have heard Christ resides within us here:

I came to the crowd to weep

I came to the crowd to laugh

Because the reality is they are searching for the church to provide comfort and happiness and assured they will find Christ within us, but as they leave us will they respond, reflecting favorably on our community, knowing that they have witnessed Christ, spreading the news to the world that they found Jesus Christ in us and say:

You dried my tears

You shared my happiness

Will they find the love that dries their tears in deep sorrow and presents them with happiness as we laugh, joke, and cry together? Will they feel that they have found Beloved Community that exudes God’s love, peace, and justice? Will they feel God’s love? Will they feel that this community of God is genuinely concerned about their life, and that this community stands in solidarity with them, and that this community loves them?  Will they leave our presence saying:

I went from the crowd seeking you

With the impression that as they were searching for a spot of Christ’s love in the midst of a chaotic world, that they found what they were seeking.  Will they find out more about themselves as they leave our presence – will they see that they can find the piece of themselves that yearns for God that they leave us  saying:

I went from the crowd seeking me

And when they leave us will they feel so connected to this community that as they went from the crowd forever that they felt:

You came, too

That we showed so much love that they feel that we went away with them because they were connected to us and connected to God through us, uniting us as a people, the people of God.

For we as the people of God are intricately tied together as the Body of Christ working to reflect Christ in our very essence.  We seek to build the space where people feel God’s love, and that they may feel our love for God and love for others.  We want people to experience our community and see that God exists within us, and because of that, they want to connect with us as well. So much so that they feel that we came, too – that we built community with them, that we share Christ with them, and that they go out feeling so linked to us in Christ that they went and you came, too, they go out into the world, and you came too, they feel fulfilled in Jesus Christ and you, we, us came, too.  Because we are united as the people of God, working to build the beloved community and you came, too.